Bridges and the rules of learning

Relationships are like bridges - bridges between you and another person, over which messages and communication travels to and fro. These bridges can be measured by the weight of the messages they carry. A 1 ton bridge for example might be a bridge between you and an acquaintance and may only support superficial communication. A 500 ton bridge on the other hand might be that of a stronger relationship, a relationship that can support some pretty weighty messages, even unwelcome ones at times, without the bridge collapsing and the relationship breaking down.

We know that one of the fundamental building blocks or pillars in coaching is that of building relatedness, developing relationships where 'weighty' communication can take place. This takes time, energy, effort and can't be rushed. As the old saying goes, 'they don't care what you know until they know that you care'.

In a similar vein, if behaviour doesn't change in the athletes we are helping to shape, let's challenge our communication first. The 3 rules of learning come into play here:

1. Athletes (people lest we forget!) learn at different speeds
2. They learn in different ways
3. They require a 'desire' to learn

Does our communication take into account these things? Can we adapt our communication and create the environment around our athletes to accommodate them?

And of course, as it always does, this goes beyond the athletic arena and into life, parenting, families and work.

Dominic King - Head of Athlete Development - Everyball International Academy, Halton

Over the few years Dominic King has been heavily involved with the Strength and Conditioning development of many of our top athletes within Everyball International Academy and has worked very hard to create strong links within the LTA (Lawn Tennis Association) S&C (Strength and Conditioning) department at the NTC (National Tennis Centre) where he has developed an excellent reputation for the work he has done over the past years with not only our full-time athletes, but also a whole host of emerging younger players as well.  He has been superbly supported by Jon Price (Head of Core Strength Gym) in this, and Jon's leadership has released and enabled Dom to pursue this particular area of delivery that has been so vital to us all.

As we move forwards into 2012 and beyond The Everyball International Academy at Halton is very pleased to appoint Dom as our 'Head of Athlete Development'.  This formalises the current role he already plays, but adds further scope to developing out further support and services to our athletes as we move forwards.

Dom will be the key point of contact for all S&C related activities within EBI and the HPC (High Performance Centre) programme and continue on in close liaison the coaching team with respect to the development of our athletes.

Dom will be giving a presentation, The Role of Strength and Conditioning in the Tennis Journey, on Wednesday 9th November from 5.45 - 6.45 pm in the studio at Halton to which all are welcome. We do hope you can make it, but we will schedule in another date shortly for those who are unable.  A reply back to Mike via e-mail to give us some indication on this would be useful.

Many thanks indeed and may I take this opportunity to thank not only Dom, but Core Strength Gym and all it's practitioners for being such a tremendous support to the tennis here at Halton and EBI.

Going to the show.....!

There is a lot of talk in coaching circles about coaches taking players to the next level and Dave Alred (mentioned in my blog of a few days ago) defines coaching as 'taking a player where they've never been before'. I like that definition in that a coach can help take a player where they've never been before in terms of performance, attitude and skill acquisition during the course of a 1 hour training session, let alone what might happen over the course of a longer time period. That's got to challenge the coach on a minute by minute basis to make a difference and steepen the learning curve.

I also happen to believe the reverse is true; players can take us as coaches where we've never been before. Helping a player to the next level means the coach has to get there as well in terms of their own learning and what they bring to the party - otherwise the player quickly outgrows the coach. In this Alred describes the key job of the coach is to learn.

Over the last two years myself and my team were privileged to 'take a player' to the 'show' - the Junior Championships at Wimbledon. Although Katy Dunne (currently in the quarter finals of a Grade A ITF world ranking event in Japan) lost in the first round on both occasions, it was an experience that we had never had before as coaches, and no doubt we are richer for it and better placed to help the next player within our Academy to come through.

So, did we take her there or did she take us there? Well, in the end, it's probably a bit of both which I think outlines the responsibility of both player and coach in the relationship, not forgetting the vital, long-suffering role the parent plays in support !

Katy strikes a brutal backhand at Wimbledon 2011

Diggin' deep to change

It's been said that if you are not used to digging deep, you won't do do when it matters. Digging deep is not just about pushing ourselves beyond our own self imposed physical barriers (although that's important of course), but also about that mental resolve and effort to dig deep inside to overcome our own resistance to change. As humans we are built for survival, and survival means avoiding discomfort. We are hard wired for this, so no wonder change comes at a cost! Ultimately of course, we'll only do what's important enough to us, and in this the following equation (used within LTA coach education) might help:

D (dissatisfaction in the current position) x V (vision for where we might be) + F (first steps to achieving our vision) > R (Resistance to change). The sum of D x V + F needs to be greater than our resistance or reluctance to change for change ever to take place.

Interested in change? Be prepared to dig deep.

Old fashioned sporting values

David Walsh, Chief Sports Writer for The Times wrote yesterday:

'The Welsh had reason to rail against Alain Rolland's decision but, to their credit, they didn't. Nobody would have blamed them if they spoke only about Warburton's dismissal but that would have been self-pitying, so they didn't go there. In a quiet moment at the post-match press conference, defence coach Shaun Edwards offered the key. 'In times like this,' he said, 'it is important to keep your dignity and not say what you feel inside.'

They departed with the style and grace that distinguished the entire journey. Toby Faletau, who had just delivered his best performance of the World Cup, chatted amiably as he made his way from the changing room to the team coach. Asked what he thought of the sending off, he didn't dodge the question or feign outrage. 'I'm not a referee, it's his decision to make and he's made it,' he said.

Governing body decisions, umpiring decisions, poor line calls, a lucky opponent's let cord; sport continually offers us the chance to exercise our dignity, self-discipline and respect. Well done the Welsh for showing that old fashion sporting values still abound.

How we see ourselves....

Been struck this week by some comments made by Dave Alred (mental skills coach to Luke Donald, kicking coach to Johnny Wilkinson and much more) in a recent presentation at the LTA. He talks about whether an organisation sees him as a 'maverick' or an 'innovator' and what that perception actually says about the values of the organisation itself; how does your organisation see you? That is an interesting question to pose, but perhaps even more important a question is how do we see ourselves? The labels we give ourselves are self-actualising and our behaviours are largely driven by those labels. So, maverick or innovator, rebel or visionary, competitor or player, genius or hard-worker - it's our choice, but let's be aware we're going to behave in the way in which we see ourselves. That in turn will drive other people's perception of you.

News from Alex Clark in Missouri

Halton's Everyball player Alex Clark won a scholarship to play College tennis in Missouri. She began late August and is settling in really well.

Here are a few excerpts from recent e-mail to me that with her permission I copy and paste!

tennis is going really well, although i have been cramping a little at then beginning trying to adjust to the climate! its so hot here.. im sweating buckets!

the first impression of the team was TERRIBLE! everyone was trying to impress the new coaches so were hitting big and missing so badly literally every shot! i got so scared on the first day that our team was going to be terrible.. but the 2nd day sasha made us only play directional tennis (only cross court natural body shape) so we didnt go too big and everyone has improved massively and got into a rhythm! our team is actually really good i think i fit right in the middle of the line up quite nicely! we are off to our first individual tournament in minnesota on thursday!

ive been striking the ball really well and the serve is improving, with regards to my terrible ball toss there is a psychologist here called rick mcguire.. he's AMAZING! he told me to think of where i want my take back to be to get into the pre throw position instead of the ball toss so your not thinking about it! it works!!

the fitness isnt too hard though.. either that or dom has done an amazing job of whipping me into shape (apart from the cramping which is technically my fault because im not drinking enough) its just running at 7am 3 times a week then a petty easy strength session tuesday and thursday evenings... like press ups.. squats etc. not too hard at all, i told the coach that i was doing harder stuff hopefully we will continue to progress!

my new doubles partner is called Rachel! shes my height! we are like twin towers on the court its going to be amazing! we are working on volleys and doubles plays a lot so we are going to be absolute machines by the time we are in season!!! :) im sooo pumped!

i went to my first football game last weekend it was sooo good! we had a recruit so we got to walk on the field before the game. i was great! i hope halton is great at home.. i feel like im still part of everything because im reading all the emails i get from you all about the club champs and the next social event! its amazing :) please dont cut me off the mailing list!

send my wishes to the team and the coaches! i miss you all! :) i am not tanning one bit........ stupid hurricane windy state..and no one here knows what banter is?!?! and they drive on the wrong side of the road and my 2 nicknames here are english muffin and hermione granger?!?

Keep up the great work Alex - glad to see you r in top form! Life is good here at the Academy although just a bit quieter with you!

Fed on his loss to Djoko at the weekend....

'He came back, he played I well, I did not play so well at the end. I have only myself to blame.'
Journalist asks Federer, 'Do you find it amazing the Djoko hits two blinding forehands match point down two years in a row?'

Federer answers, 'Well that's why we watch sports, we don't know the outcome, everybody has a chance, till the very end it can still turn; that's what we love about the sport but is tough and cruel sometimes.'
If you want to play, accept all eventualities of that decision to take part - that's the real deal of competitive sport!

Developing youngsters....

I have the dubious honour this year of managing my son's U9 Football team. In a discussion with other managers and coaches last night a very interesting point was made: In many European countries, the Netherlands being one, results are never recorded in youth football, often up to the 14&U age-groups.

Why? Because they don't want youngsters doing the easy thing and hoofing the ball up field to be safe and protect the 'result'. No, they'd like that same youngster, under no pressure, to look up, dribble perhaps, and play the smart pass AT THE COST of losing the ball and conceding a goal. The English FA is over the next couple of years going to adopt this philosophy in an effort to up-skill our youngsters coming through the clubs.

How orientated are we towards the 'result' in tennis? Is it costing our athletes the chance to really develop?

Message for today

Roger Federer said yesterday after his first round win at the US Open: 'I don't care how I do it. It doesn't need to be pretty. I don't think I've ever played my very, very best in the first round.' This 'substance over style' thinking from perhaps the most artistic, creative player of all time...

Fighting for 'every ball' is not a pretty business and there are no judges beside the court awarding style points; the only points you win are those in which your opponent fails to return the ball.